20 November 2018

Compassionate versus consequentialist conservation

By J. Hampton, B. Warburton & P. Sandøe (2018) 
Conservation Biology. Wiley 


Ethical treatment of wildlife and consideration of animal welfare have become important themes in conservation but ethical perspectives on how best to protect wild animals and promote their welfare are diverse. We present the advantages offered by the consequentialist ‘harms’ ethical framework applied to managing wild herbivores for conservation purposes. We argue that, to minimize harms while achieving conservation goals, overabundant wild herbivores should in many cases be managed through consumptive in situ killing. This argument is based on six advantages: 1) imposing negative welfare states on animals being killed for only very short durations, 2) not depriving the remaining animals of positive welfare states (e.g., linked to rearing offspring), 3) preventing overpopulation and poor welfare states facing overabundant populations (e.g., starvation), 4) preventing welfare impacts imposed on heterospecifics through resource depletion (i.e., competition), 5) harvesting meat and thereby not requiring other (agricultural) animals to be raised to supply that meat, and 6) incurring minimal costs and thereby maximizing funding available for other wildlife management and conservation priorities. Alternative ethical approaches to our consequentialist framework comprise deontology (including animal rights), and forms of virtue ethics, some of which underpin ‘compassionate conservation’. These alternative ethical approaches emphasize the importance of avoiding intentional killing of animals but, if no management occurs, are likely to impose considerable unintentional harms on overabundant wildlife and indirectly harm heterospecifics through ineffective population reduction. If non‐lethal control is used, they are likely to deprive overabundant animals of positive welfare states and incur prohibitive economic costs. We encourage all with a stake in conservation to consider animal welfare consequentialism as an ethical approach to minimize harms to the animals under their duty of care as well as other animals that policies may affect while at the same time pursuing conservation goals.

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